Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 4

Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 4

Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 4

Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 4

Synopsis

Central Works of Philosophy is a major multi-volume collection of essays on the core texts of the Western philosophical tradition. From Plato's Republic to the present day, the five volumes range over 2,500 years of philosophical writing covering the best, most representative, and most influential work of some of our greatest philosophers. Each essay has been specially commissioned and provides an overview of the work, clear and authoritative exposition of its central ideas, and an assessment of the work's importance. Together these books provide an unrivaled companion for studying and reading philosophy, one that introduces the reader to the masterpieces of the western philosophical canon. The period, 1900-60, which this volume covers, witnessed changes in logical and linguistic analysis far beyond anything dreamt of in the previous history of the subject. The volume begins with chapters on the key texts of the Cambridge philosophers, Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein, which together marked the emergence of "analytical" philosophy. The Vienna Circle of the 1920s, and the development of logical positivism in the 1930s and 1940s are represented by chapters on two fundamental works by Carnap and Ayer. William James's Pragmatism, which formulated pragmatism's epistemology and made it known throughout the world represents in the volume the distinctive ideas of the American pragmatists. Essays on Husserl's The Idea of Phenomenology, Heidegger's Being and Time, Sartre's Being and Nothingness and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception cover the core texts of the hugely significant phenomenological movement. Of the linguistic philosophy that dominated the English-speaking world in the immediate postwar years, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and Ryle's The Concept of the Mind are discussed in turn. The volume concludes with Karl Popper's influential account of the nature of science..

Excerpt

The turn of the century, from the nineteenth to the twentieth, marked a significant change in how philosophy was done. There was the desire to bring about, even if not for the first time, a radical fresh start in philosophy, one that included a proper definition of the philosophical enterprise. There was the hope of pulling free from what many philosophers saw as the quagmire of philosophical ideas bequeathed by the nineteenth century. There was indeed the expectation that philosophy would at last definitively get off on the right foot, and, through the harnessing of new tools and methods, solve or eliminate philosophical problems that had been intractable for millennia.

Various notable factors in both the background and foreground contributed to the complex nature of philosophy in the early twentieth century. Foremost was the history of philosophy itself and major new developments within it. Before turning to this, it is perhaps enlightening to consider the cultural milieu external to the subject of philosophy that formed a background to changes within it, and that may, more or less directly, have influenced those changes. The opening of the twentieth century brought with it a slackening of social and personal bonds. There were increasing demands for complete political emancipation, as well as calls for the introduction of more state welfare. The nature of personal fulfilment and of how one may attain it, breaking free of social templates that would preordain one’s life, was a central subject of writers and other thinkers. The beginning of the century was a period of huge intellectual and artistic experimentation, innovation and fecundity. In the arts, there were profound challenges to the accepted way of doing things. In music, literature and painting, old ways were overthrown, or changed out of all recognition. Artworks appeared that lacked anything close to what might be their expected content or form. Their content dealt with matters regarded previously as outside the ambit of art, to the point of being downright scandalous. Works with novel forms were castigated as formless. Many new artworks were based on principles that made a sharp break with anything that had been seen before, which included an acuter self-reflexive tendency to consider, through the medium of the artwork itself, the nature and possibility of art. In science the conception of the very large, the cosmos, was revolutionized by Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the understanding of the very small, the atomic and subatomic, was shifted in the direction that would eventually lead to quantum mechanics. Both overturned the Newtonian view of the universe that had dominated science since the eighteenth century: the universe, along with being atomistic and strictly causally deterministic, was infinite in time and space, and space was a mere nothingness in which events occurred and material objects existed, which itself took no part in determining the laws of nature. All this was rejected or fundamentally modified. Scientifically literate philosophers felt the need to incorporate and recognize these developments, ones that lead us to think about the universe in a radically new way. In biology, Darwin, at the end of the nineteenth century, had already changed the conception of what human beings are, and placed them in the natural world among other animals with no requirement for a divine spark to explain their nature or existence. The theory of evolution by natural selection was seized upon – often in a manner that was theoretically unjustifiable – and used to support sometimes dubious new social theories and ideas of progress, as exemplified by the affirmations of the value of human eugenics and a reinvigorated belief in various forms of utopianism. In psychology, Freud further revolutionized the way we think about ourselves, pointing to “unconscious” psychological factors that act upon our outlook and behaviour and that are open to conscious scrutiny only with difficulty, if at all. Finally, for many of the most original philosophers, especially English-language philosophers, the last ties with religion were cut, and religion ceased to be a central concern, or even something for which intellectual room had to be made. Among the anxiety that such innovation created, there was also a sense of liberation from the most suffocating and restrictive aspects of nineteenth-century mores. Just how all these matters affected philosophy it is probably impossible to say in detail; nevertheless in considering them one is, at least, made aware of the sympathetic concomitant climate in which earlier ideas are shed like some subfusc brocaded old raiments, to be replaced by bright clean-lined new ones; philosophy did not stand aloof from the casting off of the old and the donning of the new, and the cultural background was both cause and consequence of the changes in philosophy.

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